Membrane potential (Vm)-, Na+- or Ca2+-sensitive fluorescent dyes were used to analyze changes in Vm or intracellular ion concentrations in airway epithelial cells treated with S. aureus alpha-toxin (Hla), a major virulence factor of pathogenic strains of these bacteria. Gramicidin, a channel forming peptide causing membrane permeability to monovalent cations, a mutated form of Hla, rHla-H35L, which forms oligomers in the plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells but fails to form functional transmembrane pores, or the cyclodextrin-derivative IB201, a blocker of the Hla-pore, were used to investigate the permeability of the pore. Na+- as well as Ca2+-ions were able to pass the Hla-pore and accumulated in the cytosol. The pore-mediated influx of calcium ions was blocked by IB201. Treatment of cells with recombinant Hla resulted in plasma membrane depolarization as well as in increases in the phosphorylation levels of paxillin (signaling pathway mediating disruption of the actin cytoskeleton) and p38 MAP kinase (signaling pathway resulting in defensive actions). p38 MAP kinase phosphorylation, but not paxillin phosphorylation, was elicited by treatment of cells with gramicidin. Although treatment of cells with rHla-H35L resulted in the formation of membrane-associated heptamers, none of these cellular effects were observed in our experiments. This indicates that formation of functional Hla-transmembrane pores is required to induce the cell physiological changes mediated by alpha-toxin. Specifically, the changes in ion equilibria and plasma membrane potential are important activators of p38 MAP kinase, a signal transduction module involved in host cell defense.
- Staphylococcus aureus virulence factor
- airway epithelial cells
- plasma membrane ion permeability
- p38 MAP kinase
- Copyright © 2016, American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology